By Shwe Aung
Magazines covering business and crime will hit the newsstands on Friday untouched by the redactors in Burma’s notorious censor board, after amendments to media laws that allow certain publications to bypass official scrutiny.
The government had tested the water with entertainment and health journals earlier this year, one of the first major signals that it was loosening its grip on the country’s press environment. But with the economics discourse inevitably riding shotgun with Burma’s sensitive political sphere, due caution was taken.
A journal editor who attended a meeting held by the director of the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) told DVB under condition of anonymity yesterday that 54 publications covering business, crime and law would go out uncensored.
Still required to go via the PSRD are publications that cover hard news, education and religion. Ko Ko, of the Rangoon Media Group, said however that he thinks the remaining categories will be granted freedom from censorship within the next three months.
“News journals today are allowed to write more freely and [have greater freedom to publish] photos, so in fact I think censorship is fading,” he said.
The reality on the ground however may be less optimistic: in September the PSRD suspended publication of a supplement of The Messenger journal after it carried a full-page photograph of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The regulations under which The Messenger was punished were added as amendments to the 1962 Publishers and Printers Registration Law, after a number of news journals printed photos of Suu Kyi on their front pages after her release from house arrest in November last year.
Win Nyein, chief editor of the Alindann entertainment journal, said he had been able to tentatively cover a project by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party to gather musicians together to record an album to raise funds for schools in Burma.
“We wrote reports … about [the artists] raising education funds but we didn’t highlight that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi met them. So we had to lean more on the entertainment side of things, and we’ll have to pull evasive manoeuvres like this again,” he told DVB.
The Burmese government’s most senior political advisor, Ko Ko Hlaing, said last month that press censorship would soon end. He said the move would be in line with the Burmese constitution, in which “freedom of expression is guaranteed for every citizen”, Reuters reported.
This was echoed by a high-ranking official in Burma’s information ministry, who told DVB on condition of anonymity that a media law is being drafted now for submission to parliament next year that includes a passage saying that no publication will be censored.